Exam time raises hard questions

Updated: 2012-07-09 08:14

By He Na (China Daily)

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Students under increasing stress in age of gaokao champions struggle to find answers, He Na reports.

This should have been a great summer for Lin Haoran, a student from Sichuan province in Southwest China. The young man recently sat the gaokao, the grueling university entrance examination, and was quietly confident that he had performed well enough to be offered a place at one of the country's most prestigious colleges.

However, his exhilaration was short lived.

The day before the results were set to be officially announced, local media descended on Lin's school after a tip-off that the student was the province's top scorer, or champion, in the test formally known as the National College Entrance Examination.

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Lin was overjoyed at the news, as were his parents and teachers. He happily posed for photographs, gave interviews and provided study tips. The school also provided firecrackers to set off when the official announcement was made.

However, when the announcement came four hours later the smiles disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. The tip-off had been false and Lin wasn't the champion.

The reporters disappeared to track down the real champion and the harassed school principal put the firecrackers back in their box and went home. Lin and his parents stayed on, at a loss to understand what had happened.

"To many people, this sounds like a joke. Although it's unclear whether the claims about the exam result were malicious in intent, the incident was deeply disturbing to the student and his family," said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing.

"Luckily, Lin has a cheerful nature and his mother and father aren't as obsessed about grades as some other parents, otherwise the consequences could have been too ghastly to contemplate," he said.

There was some consolation for Lin, too: Although, he didn't come out as top scorer, he performed well enough to ensure that top-class universities will be interested in him.

Exam time raises hard questions

1. Zhou Yi, the gaokao science champion of Hainan province is interviewed by hinews.cn, a news website in Hainan. Qin Yan / for China Daily

2. Wang Hao, the gaokao arts champion of Guizhou province, will major in architecture at Tsinghua University.

3. Li Zhi, the gaokao science champion of Chongqing, studied at No 5 Middle School in the city's Fuling district.

4. Li Ze, the gaokao science champion of Beijing.

5. Han Mucen, the gaokao arts champion of Beijing, attended a high school affiliated to Renmin University of China, as did Li Ze.

6. Li Bei, the gaokao arts champion of Wuhan, was surprised that she came first among the arts majors in her city. She now hopes to visit Hong Kong with her parents.

7. He Siyu, the gaokao arts champion of Hebei province, attended Shijiazhuang No 2 Middle School.

8. Ding Yaqi, the gaokao science champion of Anhui province, was recommended to Tsinghua University by a school official. Photos Provided to China Daily

A grueling test

Gaokao is hugely important for Chinese students. Conducted in early June, the test centers on three main subjects for all students (mathematics, Chinese and a foreign language) and a combined paper on politics, geography and history for arts specialists, or chemistry, physics and biology for those of a scientific bent. This year, more than 9 million students sat the exam, and for many it's been the most important period of their lives so far.

The Ministry of Education prohibited the release of information relating to gaokao champions as far back as 2004, but in the eight years since, enthusiasm hasn't faded, instead it has become increasingly intense. Every year the highest-scoring students, their families and schools are subject to huge public and media scrutiny.

However, experts and academics have urged society to cool its worship of gaokao champions, believing that any possible benefits to the students and society are offset by the potential for harm because of the pressure exerted on the students.

The practice of worshipping gaokao champions should have been eradicated a long time ago, according to Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences under the Ministry of Education. However, the reality is that many educational institutions still prioritize the best examinees and the media spares no effort to cover the top students.

"I am sure that the majority of people are fully aware that these champions may simply be more attuned to exam-oriented education than other students. However, for middle schools and universities, producing or recruiting a gaokao champion means something else entirely," said Chu. Producing a champion is the best free advert a school can get, and can directly affect its future recruitment, government funding and donations from the public, he said.

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